Thursday, January 17, 2008

One More Question for Protestants

Following Bryan Cross' 10 (12) questions for Protestants, I'd like to ask one more (and this one, I'm unable to come up with a bad answer like I did for Bryan's).

To start with, step back for a second and just look at the history of the Christian religion as a whole (step out of your current mindset for a second and just look at Christianity objectively with no leaning towards any particular denomination or way of seeing Christianity in so far as you are able).

Now I would like to know which Christian world view would allow for a Church (be it invisible or just the collective body of Christians) that was almost completely in grave error for her entire existence? (Let's assume one could prove such a thing...for the sake of the argument). Put another way, if we were to find that nearly all of Christianity had been wrong about extremely important theological issues, what kind of Christian world view would allow for such a thing? If yours does, then how? That is my question, how/why did God let almost all of Christianity - the new chosen people to reveal Himself to the world - get everything so terribly wrong?

Would God have allowed Noah to build a faulty ark? Now how about Israel? We all know they were many times a poor representation of what God intended for them. But we see they went astray and were corrected - they returned to orthodoxy. As many times as they strayed, God disciplined and brought them back. Now isn't this the model for the Church? But the Protestant model is that the Church went astray and God did not correct them but rather raised up 'Spirit filled' leaders to start a new one (or however you want to re-word it).

At this point, I'll concede a bit. I will assume for the sake of the argument that the "Church" somehow isn't specifically the visible Catholic Church. We will just say that it is the invisible collective body of all true Christians everywhere. We are still left with the above problem. If we assume (and remember we already have) that one could demonstrate the vast majority of Christianity to be in grave theological error over the centuries, how can we make sense of such a scenario? Doesn't it strike you as theologically incoherent? If not, explain how this makes sense.

In such a scenario, I think we would be forced to view the "Church" as the tiny minority of Christians throughout the ages. Sure the "Church" existed in the first few centuries even as the majority of Christians were starting to gradually fall for 'popery'. But we're talking a small handful of people and even today - even conceding such a scenario I'd be unwilling to accept the "Church" being anything other than a tiny fraction of Christianity.

Now I would like to hear Protestant answers GIVEN those assumptions. (Remember we must assume that the vast majority of Christians were in serious theological error throughout the ages) now I want to hear the answer to that question.

But we are making some rather hefty assumptions aren't we? So let me back them up. For 1500 years, the entirety (100%) of Christianity believed in Transubstantiation. This is simply an objective fact. For the last 500 years, Catholics and Orthodox maintain it (and they make up by far the majority of Christianity) So if we were to just look at all of history objectively, we can see that the huge majority of Christianity believed in something that, if wrong, is gravely wrong. This is but one (albeit most likely the strongest) proof for the above assumptions.

We should also be aware that there are several other issues we could bring up as well - apostolic succession, rejection of sola scriptura & sola fide, infant baptism (certain Protestant denominations accept this, only making the remaining denominations even smaller fractions of Christian majority on this issue) and several other issues.

So let's assume for the sake that one particular Protestant denomination is correct about everything. Let's pick one and see- I'll use PCA since that's what I come from. If the PCA theology is correct, that makes mainline Protestants wrong on several very important moral issues. It makes most Baptists wrong on salvation (at least mostly wrong), it makes Methodists wrong on "Perseverance of the Saints" and it sure as hell makes Catholics & Orthodox wrong about a number of things (we needn't go down the list but we could list out very serious errors of all other types of Christianity such as the ones we already have).

In this scenario, we have a tiny fraction of modern Christianity being right and the huge huge majority of it being wrong on a large number of very serious theological issues. Sure, lots of Christian denominations would be close enough not to be called Pagans, but the vast majority of Christianity still holds one or more serious theological errors including (but not limited to): falsely worshiping the created as the Creator, illicitly communing with the dead, rejecting infant baptism, rejecting the Total Depravity of man or one of the other five points of Calvinism, rejecting sola scriptura and or sola fide as taught by the WCF etc... Now ask yourself, is this scenario plausible? Ok so you're not comfortable with using the PCA. Replace it with any denomination you choose. Is it a plausible scenario? The answer is no. We all know it's not. But, if you disagree, then by all means, explain why that scenario is plausible.

But suppose we used the same scenario and replaced PCA with the Catholic Church. Is that scenario plausible? I think the only reasonable answer is yes. It is a plausible scenario (forget the details for now, don't start objecting because of the pope or Mary or something else) the scenario itself is quite plausible. If not, then I want you to explain why it's not (without talking about any specific doctrinal disagreements, remember we're not getting into specifics of who's right and wrong on any certain issue - we're just looking at which scenarios are plausible and then we can weigh our options). As a footnote, I would also agree that the scenario would also be plausible by replacing the PCA with any one of the Orthodox Churches.

I think it is utterly logical that Christ would establish the Catholic Church (which alone constitutes the majority of Christianity at any point in history even up to this very day and for the first half of Christian history constituted 100%) as the true and full heir to the nation of Israel. I think it quite reasonable that He would act towards her in a similar manner as He did with Israel (that is, never abandon her, always correct her when she goes wrong and brings her back). I don't think it's hard to believe at all that instead of the Catholic Church being wrong it is the fraction of Christianity which by doctrinal novelty disagrees with her that is. So again, I don't know of any way to say such a scenario is implausible. If you think the scenario is implausible, then explain to me why.

So my conclusion with the above assumptions (given that these arguments are true) we are left with an outlook on Christian history where it would be implausible to say any given Protestant theology is correct and only the Catholic or one of the Orthodox Churches could possibly hold true.

So if you want to contradict me, let me summarize. The only way to deny the above conclusion is to show that either A) it would be plausible for the Holy Spirit to leave the huge majority of Christianity throughout the centuries to their own devices (and watch almost all of them be wrong about serious issues) or B) prove that the majority of Christianity has not been in serious error over important theological issues. (And to avoid the "its possible to be wrong on some but right on others" argument, just start with Transubstantiation).


Phil Snider said...

Really, Tim, could you possibly make it more obvious that you are stacking the decks with this question? I take issue with the whole question because it isn't a position that anyone but a fairly rabid anti-Catholic would argue and, even then, if he is more pugnacious than intelligent. I find the question difficult to take seriously because I would never try to argue it, much less in the way that you suggest that I should. I do have a point or two for you to consider.

First, remember that Augustine (and other Fathers) recognized that the Church was a mix of sinners and saints. That suggests to me that there is more than a little fallability in the Church's history, so suggests that error does happen from time to time. It also suggests that, from time to time, there is need of reform in the Church. The Reformation's intent was not, intially, to found a new church, but rather to reform the Catholic Church that was already there. The fact that different churches did form out of the Reformation was the result both of Roman Catholic refusal to reform and Protestant refusal to be patient. Under different circumstances, the kind of reform movement intiated by Luther would have occured within the Church. Certainly, there were enough reformists who stayed in the Roman Catholic fold to have fueled a reform at Trent. The tragedy is that the reforms there were both too late and insufficient in the eyes of the Protestants to justify a return.

Second, I would challenge thae argument that "for 1500 years, 100% of the Christian population believed in transsubstantiaten." If you had said, Real Prescence, I'd say 'Near enough' (there were always some dissenters to the idea), but transsubstantiation, as a doctrine, is only an outgrowth of Real Prescence; an attempt to understand how it works. Personally, I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand, but I find it an overly literal way of coming at the idea of Real Prescence.

Third, I really wish that you'd get it that the way that you characterize sola scriptura, while a commonly held position among some Protestants, was not the position of the Reformers and is not the position of many thoughtful Protestants today. What they mean is that the Bible is the primary authority, but not the exclusive one and that one is jusified by God's grace through faith. Both are positions that are congruent with the Roman Catholic position and even have been conceded by the Roman Catholic Church themselves in ecumenical discussions with Lutherans.

What I'm saying is that you really aren't gettin that your arguments are useful against a narrow band of Protestant apologists, but ineffective against a large number of more catholic minded Protestants.

What I'm also saying is that you are trying to create a straw man here and I find it difficult to take that effort very seriously. Really, if you want to engage in polemics, go ahead, but, at least, characterize your opposition in a more accurate and nuanced fashion.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil, If there's something wrong with the question then why don't you just tell me what it is?

I don't have quite the literary skills to put the question in writing as it is in my head, but in my mind it's one of a half dozen or so iron-clad points in favor of Catholicism/Orthodoxy.

Now, I'd like to respond to some of your statements but I'm going to wait until you either answer my question or tell me what's inherently wrong with it. The 10 questions Bryan Cross asked were very strong questions that I don't know of any good answer to from a Protestant perspective. I knew what Protestants would say though and I answered them that way.

This is a question to which I don't know what they would say. I'd like to know how they get around this question. If it's unfairly stacked, then just point out how so or I'll make a bargain, ask me an unfairly stacked Protestant apologetic question and I'll answer. But in all honesty, I don't think its an unfair question at all.

And to be sure, some of the lines do get a little blurry when we're talking about Anglicans rather than say Baptists for the purposes of this question but I think many of the premises still apply.

I re-read the post after I wrote it and I wasn't sure if what I was trying to say would be clear to others or not. You'll have to work with me a little bit and perhaps even use your imagination - I'm not terribly good at putting certain things into words.

Phil Snider said...

Sorry for my testiness and you are right I should explain my objections.

First the question in particular:

Now I would like to know which Christian world view would allow for a Church (be it invisible or just the collective body of Christians) that was almost completely in grave error for her entire existence?

In itself, I see where you are going. There is a tendency of Protestants to chop out most of the Patristic era and the entire Middle Ages as tainted and useless. I wouldn't, but I recognize the issue.

Yet, most Protestants would argue that Christianity was fine before a certain (much disputed point)whether the end of the Apostolic era or up to the rise of Constantine or end of the patristic era. That suggests that they don't think the Church was in grave error for her entire existence, just that there was a period before the Reformation when the Church lost her way and needed to be set right. The Reformation could be seen as God's intervention to do just that.

So, in a sense, what bothers me is the absolutizing implied in the question. In the way you phrase it, you are really dealing with a radical anti-Catholic fringe, but failing to make it clear that most self-respecting Protestants wouldn't even try to argue that position. That strikes me as (I presume unintentionally) a straw man.

What bothers me (and this isn't just about you, but rather most of the apologetic writers I read on the net)with apologetics as we see it all too often in blogs is that there is a very real want of nuance in understanding one's audience. Protestantism is a very broad category and I don't think we can just come up with one set of arguments which we think we will blow away the whole side.

For instance, I would answer a lot of Bryan Cross' questions like a catholic...because I am one. That is, I believe very strongly in the bonds that unite us as a universal church even across denominations (the Creeds, the 7 Ecumenical Councils, Scripture), but I deny that the Roman Catholic Church is the only expression of catholicity. Luther and Calvin, for all their flaws, were never interested in creating new churches, but in reforming the catholic one as they saw it in the day.

Tim, your question is a standard one, but it doesn't match what many (or most) theologically-literate Protestants think about the history of the Church. My answer is simply to quote Augustine back to you as I did in my reply which really is jumping over the lines that you were assuming in your post.

That is another thing, incidently, that irks me. I really hate to be told what I should be thinking. I suspect, however, that is a character defect of mine more than anything that is your fault.

I hope that explains my reaction.


Anonymous said...

I don't agree with Phil. I think you put some very valid questions forth. Phil's reaction is the typical knee-jerk protestant one. Phil, could you put your arguments aside, and try to answer Tim? I would be interested to read your answers. And Phil, there is a difference between saints and sinners inside the Church, and the Church itself, the institution that Christ founded on Earth. Some people within the church have been corrupt, but never the church itself.

Phil Snider said...


I did answer Tim's question as far as I'm willing to go. I'm not prepared to take on an argument that I simply don't agree with i.e. that the church has been in error for the entire 1500 years before the Reformation. I won't do that because that position is a) wrong and b) not the only position a Protestant can take. I articulated my own view of the matter in my replies. That, I trust, will be a sufficient answer.

As for your suggestion that the Church is never wrong, but members are. Well, yes, but I don't see that we can separate the Church and its members in the here and now which is rather the point. I find arguing the phrasing "Church itself, the institution that Christ founded on Earth" is far too abstract for me. What does that actually mean? Can we separate the church we attend and the Church Universal? Or is the church we attend a part of that Church Universal which Christ is using to help redeem the world, for all of individual churches and Christians' imperfections? After all, if the Apostles, who listened to Jesus directly, were as imperfect as they were even after they understood what Jesus was, how can we expect ourselves or even the institutions in which we meet, worship and work be more perfect? The key is that we are being made perfect, not that we are.

There is no doubt that the Church ultimately gets and will get it right. That doesn't mean that there aren't times we get it wrong as a collectivity. Just as Israel frequently got it wrong, but sometimes, when they were listening to God's voice, got it right, so the Church as well. There is no doubt in my mind that, when eschaton comes, the Church will get it right. My doubts are about the historical institution and the institution as it stands today.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil, I think we're getting into more details than the question is asking for. I'm just asking about scenarios. I think you answered my question and if I'm hearing you right you agree with the first basic premise and reject the second. The first is the idea that God would allow the huge majority of Christianity to be in grave error throughout the ages - (so I think you agree with me that that is not a plausible scenario).

However, you don't see this as evidence of the Catholic (or Orthodox) Church being correct in her claims but rather you deny that because you don't agree that the majority of Christianity has been in error on serious theological issues. Is this a fair assessment?

Thos said...

Interesting discussion. I'm largely sympathetic with Phil on this. Specifically, there are thoughtful Protestant answers to these lines of questions, even as far back as our Reformation-era Confessions. I sense Phil is saying that most squared-away Protestants realize this, so the arguments from Catholic apologists should not presume we are all idiots. Where I might not agree with Phil though, is in any implication that "most" or even "many" Protestants understand or could begin to articulate these Confessional formulations. In other words, my experience has been that there are very few squared-away Protestants in this narrow sense. If that is true, it *almost* seems to validate the thrust of what Tim was trying to say (that most in the visible church are lost in any given generation and very few have the light of truth).

Tim, the PCA "scenario", and answer to your question should go like this: the catholic visible Church has been sometimes more and sometimes less visible. Particular denominations or branches are more or less pure according to how faithfully the Word is taught, the sacraments are administered, and worship is conducted. Even the purest denominations have had error in them, and some have degenerated to the point where they are synagogues of Satan. But God will always preserve a Church on earth that worships Him (WCOF, Ch. XXV, Secs. 4, 5).

IOW, the Catholic Church had error in it, but still did the fundamentals of word, sacrament, and worship. But it degenerated to the point where it was no longer a Church, and others sprang up before that point to carry the torch. These too have error. So the PCA can never claim to 'have it all right' as you suggest, but it could say it's doing its best to be faithful to word, sacrament and worship, and recognize that others have the fundamentals pretty close too, such as the Lutherans or the Baptists.

They would have to concede though, as you suggest, that they may have, as they believe others do have, serious error in their teaching.

So the Q becomes (or already is?), would Christ let all of us be or potentially be in serious error?

Pray for Unity!

Tim A. Troutman said...

I think we're having a disconnect going on. And I think you both are missing the gist of what I'm saying or rather trying to say.

None of this argument says the Catholic/Orthodox Church is right. It just says it MIGHT be right whereas there is no chance that any other denomination is right. If any Protestant community correctly interprets the bible, (any at all) then that puts the HUGE majority of Christianity in the wrong. I don't see how any thing could possibly be any more objectively clear than this statement.

But what you and Phil are doing, is not so much disagreeing with my premise outright but trying to reword the argument so it doesn't prove what you know I'm aiming to prove. Because if you answer the question honestly then you have to deal with subsequent questions you might have already guessed which may end up being much more difficult.

So the first objection to the above is this: 'well no Protestant denomination is 100% perfect and they don't need to be based on our ecclesiology'. Do you see how this avoids the point by taking issue with an insignificant detail?

I was never questioning whether it was possible that any Protestant denomination be perfectly infallible - we all know that's not true and you wouldn't disagree with me. I'm just asking if any Protestant denomination is correct.

I believe they are all demonstrably incorrect based on my argument. We have agreed (I think) in the first part of the question - the huge majority of all Christians being in serious theological error throughout history being theologically implausible.

However, we seem to have got stopped in the second part of the argument. I'm asking whats wrong with the argument and I keep hearing about details (granted not Mariology) but on the concept of what church is and so forth but if you'll read the argument, I conceded to the Protestant view of "church" for the sake of the argument so I think it still works.

I like to look at extreme examples to prove a point and then work backwards. Most people don't grasp it for some reason and it almost always throws them off - I don't know why. But I find it logical and extremely effective in determining truth or even more effective in pinpointing fallacy. Let me give an example.

Objector: "We need mass transit in our city. You can't just build roads to alleviate traffic"

Anti-Mass-Transit-Dude: "If building more roads doesn't help traffic then destroying roads wouldn't hurt it"

So in this case let me appeal to the extreme so we can all see through the fog a bit.

Forget Anglicans and PCA because you both have personal interests in defending them. I think Baptists would be the easiest mainline denomination to disprove but I'll take it a step further and pick out Jehovah's Witnesses.

Can Jehovah's Witnesses be dismissed by my formula? (Forget for a moment that there are plenty of other ways to dismiss them). I think they can and solidly so. We have agreed on the first part - now the second - let's assume we studied the Scriptures and the early Church fathers and all the watchtower material and everything at our disposal and prayed diligently over it and finally came to the conclusion that the Watchtower had indeed gotten it right (suspend disbelief if you can for the moment).

In this scenario, Christianity has lost nearly all historical credibility because the HUGE HUGE majority of Christians since the day of Christ until now have been in serious serious error on many different things. I needn't go down the list and not the least of which is the Divinity of Christ.

As we move from this extreme example to more moderate ones (Like PCA or Anglicanism) the lines are gradually blurred and it becomes more difficult to say such things with certainty and it becomes more and more plausible that the denomination in question could be correct (remember not 100% just general).

However, if you agree that the extreme could be dismissed (if for no other reason) simply by the enormous lack of historical credibility as I detailed, then you must allow for the possibility that more moderate denominations may also cross that threshold of historical credibility (not necessarily that they have, just that it's POSSIBLE that they have).

While I did just concede that the historical credibility of the denominations increases as you move towards the Catholic Church er... let me be more fair and just say move more towards traditional Reformation theology, I still maintain that these denominations (all of them) are beyond the breaking point of historic credibility (some, like Baptists, are much further than others).

I have never taken a serious look at Islam and I never will. I don't need to. It has almost zero historical credibility and by that point alone, I can know it's false.

Finally, thos - your last statement is a valid alternative. There IS the possibility that no one is correct and it's merely up to us individuals (barring all organized religion) to find the truth of Christianity. I think we can discuss that later if need be but I doubt any of us will feel the need to do so.

Phil Snider said...

I agree there is a disconnect, but I really take issue with this comment:

But what you and Phil are doing, is not so much disagreeing with my premise outright but trying to reword the argument so it doesn't prove what you know I'm aiming to prove. Because if you answer the question honestly then you have to deal with subsequent questions you might have already guessed which may end up being much more difficult.

Remember what I said about stacking the decks? You are essentially admitting that you expect me to argue using assumptions that are your own and not mine. Why, in heaven's name, would I do that? For that matter, why should you assume that I'm answering dishonestly if I tell you that I don't agree with the assumptions implicit in the question? If you already had an answer which will trap me (which, in essence, you are trying to do), why did you bother to ask it? You already have decided I've lost, so why should I bother to contribute to this thread.

In due respect, Tim, this is uncharitable to your opponents and I'm not interested in playing a random Greek guy to your Socrates. Frankly, you are treating your Protestant audience as if you are more interesting in scoring debating points (an area which I am not unarmed in, I think you would agree) than in genuinly listening or, even, helping to clear obstacles to conversion (which, in all charity, is what I think is the aim of your apologetic efforts). If you actually want to discuss the issues behind the question and listen to an answer, let me know.

Now, I challenge you. Your (or your guests')next post can declare victory because I've left the field without "answering your question" or you can open up a real discussion and listen to what your Protestant readers are really saying. As your brother Christian, I hope you do the latter.


Anonymous said...

Tim, you really DO need to GET OVER YOURSELF!!! What are your INTENTIONS on this blog??? Perhaps you should spend less time here, and a little more time with Miggy in the "bible story thing" as you put it. Nothing like showing some enthusiasm for answering his questions and being a guiding light for him. CHILD LIKE FAITH is a great thing, lets not put it off until YOUR movie is over.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Phil, I honestly don't understand why you're getting upset over this, I don't think I'm being unfair in my question at all and I never accused you of dishonestly answering anything.

I don't think you've explained clearly how you object to my assumptions. I went into some detail on where I based my assumptions so if we disagreed, it would be easy to say "oh ok here's where I reject your assumption" which is fine but if you've done that, I didn't understand it.

You said:
"In itself, I see where you are going. There is a tendency of Protestants to chop out most of the Patristic era and the entire Middle Ages as tainted and useless. I wouldn't, but I recognize the issue."

But that's not at all where I was going. I thought I cleared that up in my previous reply. I showed explicitly where I was going. I'm not setting any traps, I showed my logic plainly from start to finish.

You also said:
"Protestantism is a very broad category and I don't think we can just come up with one set of arguments which we think we will blow away the whole side."

Well I don't think thats a very fair statement at all. Islam is a very broad category if you want to count all the different sects and how they believe (for example, we can't judge all Muslims based on Al Quaida right?) Based on that alone can we say there aren't any strong arguments to dismiss the entire faith? I think not. Which is why I just explained I dismiss the faith without looking at the details based on lack of historical credibility. Again, the brunt of my argument is that this point alone is strong enough to give someone serious second thoughts (if not outright rejection) of Protestantism. You may disagree, and in my mind there are only two general assumptions I made which one (or both) need to be rejected in order to reject my argument. We agree on the first but disagree on the second. So it's fine that we disagree on that, why not talk charitably on those areas which we disagree (you say that many Protestants read early Church fathers in a certain Reformation friendly manner- I'm aware of this) and we can talk about disagreement on that or something but I dont think its fair to accuse me of stacking the deck.

Stacking the deck would be "when did Protestants stop loving God?"

I said if A and B is true then C. Now A & B are both true so how do you account for C since you are of the opinion "Not C". That's my question. There's no stacking of the deck. One may easily say, yes "if A & B then C but while A is true B is not" Then we have to decide if B is really true or not.

I think this question is a very hard one to deal with. My offer stands for you to ask one that you think unfairly stacked against the Catholic Church and I'll answer. In all honesty, I don't think the issue we're having is because of an unfair stacking but because it's a very difficult thing to wrestle with. Maybe I'm wrong. My offer stands for you or anyone else.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Anon - now we've moved from charitable discussion to ad hominem attacks. All those things may be true, I need to get over myself, I need to spend more time with my son, I need to be a better father .... maybe it's true...

But are you really in a position to say anything about it? Even if you were would it be appropriate?

So what is your issue with me? What do you want me to do? Where is this hateful spirit coming from?

If I've said anything against anyone let them speak up now. I haven't attacked anyone personally or insulted anyone (at least certainly not in this post). So why the personal attack on me and of all things my parenting skills?

Thos said...


I do not believe I disagreed with your premise anywhere. I certainly did not mean to. Please don't mistake my giving a PCA "answer" to your question as saying that your question or your premise are flawed. I was basically quoting from the Westminster.

I said "They [the PCA] would have to concede though, as you suggest, that they may have, as they believe others do have, serious error in their teaching."

Isn't this what you're out to prove? You said, "If any Protestant community correctly interprets the bible, (any at all) then that puts the HUGE majority of Christianity in the wrong."

I think the PCA would have to concede that we are somewhere between "HUGE amounts of historical Christianity have been wrong (for not being solidly Reformed)" and "being Reformed contains some admixture of error, as do all belief systems, but we have to do our best."

When I've engaged in this line of discussion, it's usually come across the essentials - non-essentials divide too. The PCA would probably contend (were it one entity) that there haven't been HUGE numbers of Christians wrong in the essentials (but this is question-begging: what are essentials?).

Anyway, maybe re-read my last comment. I think it worked more with you and less against you than you took it.

Pray for Unity!

Tim A. Troutman said...

Thos - I re-read your post. I may have taken it the wrong way and also may have unfairly lumped you and Phil together - while you agree on some things you probably are nuanced at best on others.

But perhaps I'm still not being clear on the thrust of my argument.

I understand the WCF position "all councils may err and many have" (and I think this could apply from a PCA standpoint to denominations' general confessions of faith including their own as well - which is what I'm hearing you say)

I get where you're coming from on that. What I'm saying is that I'm not necessarily talking about "essentials" because we could get into a very lengthy and almost certainly unproductive discussion on what the "essentials" are when we'd all just be safe to agree that the "essentials" are fully known to God alone.

I think the easiest doctrinal issue to focus on for our purposes is the sacrament of the Eucharist.

In the aforementioned PCA scenario, where PCA is generally correct (allowing some nuances and even outright errors but certainly holding to a fundamentally true version of Christianity) we have major problems with the Eucharist since they affirm God is no more present in the wafer than in the microphone at the pulpit (although mystically present in the communion service - and I don't say that mockingly Catholics also use that terminology for various sacraments etc...)

"In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration"

"Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other alone; as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people, worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about, for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ."

"That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ's body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yes, of gross idolatries."

Now, that is the PCA (WCF) standpoint on the Eucharist. Indeed, they base this (and many other parts of the WCF) on what they see as Catholic errors. As stated in the text, these aren't small errors but idolatries.

So in the PCA scenario we see assumption one: God would not allow the majority of Christianity to be in error on the centrality of correct worship and assumption two: the huge majority of Christianity from day one has held the Eucharist to be the center of worship - even the Eucharist as the very flesh of God (we can debate Real Presence vs transubstantiation all we want - PCA rejects anyone's version of either although I do not personally concede that they are different things).

Therefore conclusion - PCA can't be right. I mean it is not just wrong but seriously wrong on this issue (if both assumptions are true).

Again, this is one of many issues we could bring up but I think this is the strongest. We could replace it with various important issues - the necessity of baptism, primacy of the pope, reconciliation etc.. but we needn't go down all those roads and get tied up with details that will only get us side tracked from what I'm trying to say with the argument. If PCA is right, it makes Catholics wrong, it makes Orthodox wrong, it makes Anglicans wrong and even Lutherans wrong. Baptists and Methodists are still ok on this issue, they're close enough. But add up all the "right" denominations and we have only a small fraction of Christianity from day one correctly worshiping God and you wont find anyone on the roster earlier than Wycliffe (remember we're still only talking about the Eucharist for the sake of the argument).

To Phil - I understand this scenario becomes more than just a bit nuanced when we talk about Anglicanism - that's a different discussion that needs to start from the ground up. I'm just initially asking about assumptions and scenarios.

Now, Thos can you back me up on this - I don't see where I'm being arrogant or derogatory or anything like that. I think I've struck some nerves especially with Mr./Ms. Anonymous but I don't understand how or why or what I said to call for such a rebuke! I'm talking about very serious issues and I think I'm being logical about it and straightforward.

Phil Snider said...


I can see you're honestly baffled by my responses, although I have been trying to be clear about it. I think what bothers me is even the premise of these questions for Protestants because they really aren't questions to elicit information, so much as questions to elicit certain answers which make excellent sense in a Catholic theological context, but rather poor sense in a Protestant one. They limit discussion to a very narrowly defined area where most of your theologically aware audience already know the destination, so are disinclined to go there because they can't even agree with the opening proposition. An honest answer in this context is to say just that.

I'm really not interested in giving you an question unfair to Catholics because I'm interested in that kind of discussion. My point here is a spiritual one: what is gained by throwing questions that we already know are unfair at each other? How is this affecting our salvation? Doesn't the Bible warn against useless arguments?

What I am interested in is to genuinely talk about our disagreements and work to understand what the other is saying, even if we continue to disagree. That allows for a deeper conversation than the kind of verbal sparring which passes for apologetics in blogsphere.

So, let me be very clear and explicit in dealing with your question.

Now I would like to know which Christian world view would allow for a Church (be it invisible or just the collective body of Christians) that was almost completely in grave error for her entire existence?

The whole statement " Church (be it invisible or just the collective body of Christians) that was almost completely in grave error for her entire existence?" is untrue and is something that I would never argue. So, from the initial premise, I disagree. It is not true that the entire Church has been wrong about almost everything almost always. It is true that segements of the Church have been wrong from time to time. It is true that sometimes the groups that have been wrong have held control over the churches for a time. BUT: it is not true that the Church (i.e. all members, all groups) as a whole has ever been completely wrong, much less for its entire history.

Assumptions I think you need to clean up.

The Church: this definition is notoriously difficult. Obviously, it is the body of God's people on earth, yet the implications of this are important. Do we define the Church as all Christians who are within an orthodox range (as I would; thus, denying that any one denomination has a stranglehold on the truth) or do we define it as the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches (because of the clear continuity with the catholic church of the Patristic and Mediaeval eras). It might be unfair, but hiding under the surface of your discussion, I think you are assuming this is the Roman Catholic Church. I challenge that. I agree that the Roman Catholic Church is in the mix, but I don't think the Church is limited to it. This is very ecumenical of me, but it is not meant to deny the profound disagreements across denomination.


I've already covered this one. Simply, Calvinists think differently that Lutherans who think differently than Anabaptists who think differently than Anglo-Catholic Anglicans. I know you think that you can deal with the entirity, but, while I concede similarities because of their common origin, they are sufficiently theologically diverse that I can't see how one question is going to convince them all. This particular question might catch a large chunk of these groups, but Anglicans and many Lutherans are going to give you very catholic answers as I have.

Does that make more clear why I have an issue with this question?


Phil Snider said...

Sorry, an addendum to my definition of the Church: please add that the body of God's people on earth includes those in the past and the future.


Thos said...


I appreciate trying to sort this out. I agree that taking Eucharistic doctrine is a good starting point, and I’d prefer sticking with a PCA/Westminster argument because that’s what I’m familiar with (but I agree that being close to it gives me my own biases). I think you’re looking to see how a Protestant can at least explain his position, so that’s what I’m trying to do with the Westminster position (my own doubts aside).

[I think it’s just an aside, so I don’t want to confuse the main discussion, but it’s a good point that the Westminster (esp. the parts you quoted) was primarily written as a reaction to Catholicism. I think people in my circle who don’t try to understand the Reformational context and do try to understand the Confession are very inhibited in their grasp.]

To your assumptions:
1) God would not allow the majority of Christianity to be in error on the centrality of correct worship…

The PCA/Westminster position I tried to outline would not concede this assumption, so maybe we can refine it a bit? I’ve read Calvin’s view that the Catholic Church contained a very tiny number of people, scattered about, within the Western Church (aka pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Church). It is this view, I believe, which drove the Westminster Confession to say that the church is sometimes “less visible”. They were explaining how it could be so small. So the view is that it fluctuates, according to God’s will and good pleasure. This kind of touches Phil’s point that how we define church matters very much. The Westminster here is talking of church visible – right before the Reformation, the outward appearance of “church” was *way* less pure, and *way* less visible as a Church of God (since it also, as the argument goes, has the appearance of a synagogue of Satan). And then underlying this is the belief that at all times there is a certain number (sometimes very small) of godly saved “elect” Christians. So I think the PCA can say that God would and indeed has allowed the majority of visible Christianity to be in grace error, even for something as central as right-worship and sacramental practice. Tim, these thoughts of yours were in the Reformers’ minds too, so if nothing else, they were accounting for the problems you raise in their articulation of what was church.

2) The huge majority of Christianity from day one has held the Eucharist to be the center of worship - even the Eucharist as the very flesh of God…

So even if the PCA’er were to grant this assumption for arguments sake, they could just say that the visible church was less pure to the Bible on this point. Actually, I think the going view is that you’re wrong about the Eucharist for the very first generation or maybe two, and to a lesser degree the first four or five centuries, at which point the practice went out of accord with the Apostles’ teaching contained in the Bible.

How about if we substitute Eucharist for Bible doctrines? That might make it interesting.

Pray for Unity!

Tim A. Troutman said...


Earlier I said:
"However, you don't see this as evidence of the Catholic (or Orthodox) Church being correct in her claims but rather you deny that because you don't agree that the majority of Christianity has been in error on serious theological issues. Is this a fair assessment?"

I think you just re-confirmed that. So, I think its fair to say that you disagree with me not because the question is inherently flawed or stacked unfairly but because I have a flawed assumption (assumption #2).

I think that's perfectly fine and I can see how you'd say that especially coming from an Anglican point of view.

But if you were to look at it from a PCA view as I outlined above, (denial of Real Presence etc...) would you still hold the same view? If they're right, it's not merely 'pockets' of Christianity that were in error but the entire Catholic Church and all the Eastern Churches on this issue (and many other serious ones). Does the argument work for PCA? Does it work for Mormons, JWs, Baptists, Pentecostals? Let's just start with the extreme actually.

Does it work with JWs?

Now to clarify about the word "Church". I intentionally tried to avoid using the word "Church" as much as possible so as not to get into arguments over the definition of the word. In fact, I even conceded the definition to Protestants and assumed a Protestant definition for the sake of the argument. Even with that definition I think my argument is still valid.

You asked:
"what is gained by throwing questions that we already know are unfair at each other? How is this affecting our salvation? Doesn't the Bible warn against useless arguments?"

Well I don't think it's a useless argument thats why I brought it up. I think its a very valid one and it was a large part of convincing me to become Catholic. I saw that my own denomination did not have historical credibility and therefore was theologically implausible according to my world view (the first assumption - God would not allow His Church (using the Protestant definition) to be in serious error for so long).

I think this is an answer you need to accept on faith since I can't prove it - but the truth is I don't have ill intentions or trivial reasons for asking this question. I honestly believe it is valid, fair and relevant.

How is it affecting our salvation? You know that according to Catholic dogma there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church (the Orthodox say the same thing concerning the Orthodox Church) whereas we both teach that non members may very well end up in Heaven, they are at a profound disadvantage without the sacraments.

Catholicism and Orthodoxy are sacramental religions as you know, and we believe the sacraments convey real grace towards salvific ends. Now, if I were to truly believe such a thing, I think it is incredibly relevant and fair to ask those outside this Church (which I personally believe to be the true Church) some tough questions like this in hopes that it will spark some thought in them that will lead to conversion.

Catholicism is still an evangelical religion (not in the modern sense of the word of course). But I personally believe that the best thing for Christianity would be for every Christian on the planet to become Catholic. I think there would be no greater expression of unity.

Now I'm not specifically talking about you Phil, I'm just posting this out there for whoever. I think (maybe I'm wrong) that if I had run across something like this 7 or 8 years ago I may have converted much sooner. I simply wasn't exposed to arguments from the Catholic side (at least not good ones).

So I'm tossing this out there in the hopes that it might be helpful to some. But I still think its a valid question, I think it would be helpful for you (if you want to continue) to think of it from a non-Anglican position (start with the extreme - Jehovah's Witnesses) does it work for them? If not, then well it certainly wouldn't work for Lutherans or Anglicans but if so, then lets ask if it would work for Baptists... then Methodists etc...

Anonymous said...

Marcus Grodi said it very well:
"For me, I had come to doubt whether I even had the right to remain a Protestant pastor. I no longer could justify why my Presbyterian interpretation of Scripture and truth was any more accurate than any of the other sometimes slightly - but too often drastically different - denominational interpretations being broadcast from hundreds of pulpits around me. Our adult classes were always full of people converting from other denominations to my Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I was constantly trying to explain why our Presbyterian view of Baptism or Salvation or the Lord's Supper or the End Times was different from their previous Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, or Catholic beliefs. I would show them the scriptural basis for our interpretation, but often they would show me the scriptural basis for their previous views.

"At first, I concluded that this is the way Presbyterians believe because we believe our interpretation is the most accurate. But in time I had to recognise that we believed this way because it was our Presbyterian heritage, our tradition. But whatever happened to Scripture alone? What is this "tradition" through which we interpret Scripture? And by what authority did I claim that our Presbyterian tradition was more accurate and eternally trustworthy than any other Christian tradition? And my people trusted me, that I had done my homework and that my conclusions could be trusted. My conclusion was that I had no right to stand before them as their pastor.

"But then through the witness of other Protestant clergy, who had discovered the truth of the Catholic Church, I discovered that there is a Tradition, a teaching authority, that one can trust; one that was established by Christ himself in his hand-picked apostles and guided by the Holy Spirit: the Catholic Church."

Phil Snider said...


It isn't that the question was all wrong. On a lot of points, I do agree with you...I wouldn't be an Anglican, if I didn't (which, incidently, is also a sacramental faith). I also concede that other groups with Protestantism would find this question more difficult to handle. I note that, if you look at my blog, the book-review I posted a book by D.H. Williams suggests that some evangelicals from a free church background (which is, after all, about as far as you can get from Roman Catholicism and stay Christian) are also getting that they can't dismiss lightly 1500 years of the Church's history. Still, thos is right: there are more people who happily do either explicitly or implicitly.

I also note that, while I recognize that you personally find and found this argument compelling, there are still a lot more assumptions to go through before someone gets to the Roman Catholic Church as being the answer to the dillema caused by the question. A discussion on the meaning of catholicism vs. Catholicism would probably clear up some of the confusion. I find that all too often Roman Catholics run into the term catholic in patristic writers, for instance, and assume it means them. That is not a necessary connection to Protestants, especially those of an Anglican variety who consistently and explicitly define themselves as catholic, sacramental and orthodox.

This last point is one reason why I reacted so strongly. I accept the force of the problem you pose, if not in my own thinking, then in others. Still, I could see very clearly where you were going with this and I felt coerced to go there. If you hang around blogsphere and the net long enough, you get used to having people trying to trap you with logic traps based on assumptions that you simply can't accept. So, when you question the assumptions, you are accused of avoiding the issue, when you are answering as honestly as you can. I note that it also doesn't help, if someone suggests that the reasons why you object so strenuously is that you are secretly feel the thrust has struck home. That is really just a red flag in front of a bull. I'm sure you've had similar experiences from anti-Catholic polemicists, so you probably know what I mean.

That said, I apologize for the vehemence of my responses. One of my faults as a blogger is that I pre-emptively kick open traps like that when I get even the slightest sense of them (intended or not: and I'm assuming this was not intended in you case) without bother to listen carefully to what the other person said. I did that here and I really should know better. So, I hope you'll accept my apology.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Well guys I think this discussion can be wrapped up right about here.

Phil- apology accepted - don't worry about it. I have the same sort of tendency (and I also have a tendency to word posts without thinking of how they would come across to others).

My final point re- what you said, if you remove the history part of the equation, I think the argument could still even work (albeit not nearly as strong). So if Baptists are right, that makes roughly 90% of Christianity (as we speak) terribly wrong about the Eucharist, about infant baptism (indeed baptism as a whole) about apostolic succession and other things. So I think that point alone could simply eliminate them from the 'running'.

My argument is that if we were to go down the line, we could easily eliminate almost all Protestant denominations by this method and potentially all of them. What you would be left with is one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches or the Catholic Church. You couldn't use this argument against either one of them since their doctrines are almost identical.

So this removes not only questions regarding the definition of "Church" but also of "Catholic vs catholic".

Thos- Just one final point on the PCA standpoint and the objection to the first assumption. The "remnant" type of theory seems to me to be used almost exclusively with fringe groups (like JWs or like Seventh Day Adventists). In the case of the Gnostics, they would say the same thing as the PCA (yes we few have the truth but it was always maintained by some since the time of the apostles and it was always there in the Scriptures for anyone to read it) - note I'm not comparing PCA to Gnostics just the PCA argument to the Gnostic argument.

This alone does not disprove the argument but should make us raise an eyebrow "hmm.. everywhere else I've seen that sort of reasoning it's been wrong". Where I think this argument fails the most is when we hold it up in light of redemptive history.

The Church (in anyones definition) is 'God's people'. How does He deal with "His People"? Israel as a model for the Church does not seem to fit with the PCA notion of what the true "Church" is to me. Furthermore if we look in Acts, we don't see the "remnant" ecclesiology but an authoritative, visible body which decided doctrinal questions.

Anyway, if you guys want a closing statement I'll let you end it.

Phil Snider said...

Last comment or two.

First, your suggestion about method to eliminate various denominations based on their belief that everyone else is wrong on x subject (here Eucharist)assumes rigid denomination lines. This would be true of some or, indeed, many Protestants, but not all by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, it would leave most evangelicals untouched because one of the important aspects of modern evangelicalism is the tendency to regard denominations boundaries and differences as unimportant compared to our common Christianity. This explains such evangelical landmarks as C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and the Billy Graham Crusades which happily disregard the theological divisions among Christians in order to unpack a broader alliance of Christians.

Second, this argument can very easily be turned back on the Orthodox and Catholics. That is, their sacramental system implies a rejection of most Protestant beliefs about the Eucharist (say, 90%), so how could we believe that that many people could be wrong? You can get around this by re-introducing the historical dimension and claiming apostolic warrant, but the ahistorical version you propose is very much a double edged sword.

Lastly, on remnant ecclesiology. I'm not sure that I'm as quick to dismiss this, although I think this is the Mennonite influence on me. Certainly, much of the imagry around Israel is to talk about the faithful remnant and this imagry has been carried into the New Testament, especially in the more apocolyptic sections. It is very possible that, in this post-Christian world, we may have to start seeing ourselves as practicing Christians as something of a faithful remnant of a cultural Christianity. Perhaps.


Thos said...

Tim and Phil,

Thanks for this discussion. I've enjoyed and benefited from it.

The remnant view is absolutely part of Reformational claims, no matter how few Protestants would care to endorse the view. Many who do seek to endorse it (by invoking that there is a mere remnant today too) are part of some fringe or another. The argument involves a view that the Old Covenant was almost certainly going to repeat itself in the New, and a view that any 'mainstreamed' group of Christians will fall into error.

Pray for Unity!

Phil Snider said...


I see what you are saying about the 'remnant' theology, yet there are times when 'remnant theology' is the only thing that makes sense. For an extreme case, the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. When all the mainline churches either completely Arianized (almost all mainline Protestant groups) or worked out concordats (Catholics) with the Nazis, the Confessing Church could be forgiven for embracing remnant theology, considering the clear identifiable heresy among the Protestant mainline tradition.

I'm not saying this is necessarily true now, but there are times when one wonders.


Thos said...


I certainly agree. I meant more in terms of the worldwide church.

Pray for Unity!